We need another Star Trek television series again – a legitimate one! It’s rewatching gems like The Next Generation’s “The Best of Both Worlds” from its third season that makes you really miss a series like this. Back in 1990, I was 18 years old and for most of my teen years I wasn’t much of a Star Trek fan. I still regarded myself as a Star Wars guy. Star Trek was the snotty, pretentious older brother to the far more hormonal and adventurous Star Wars. The third season finale changed that perception. Star Trek could be fun and just as kick-ass as Star Wars. Top-notch special effects. Cinematic musical scoring. It was hard to believe I was watching this on television!
Today, we expect television to give us quality because we’re living in a kind of golden age of TV again. In the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, it was a different story. There wasn’t much in the way of science fiction, for one, and what was there certainly wasn’t of much quality. The Next Generation stood out from the pack. It was so well-produced by its third year that when it handed us its first cliffhanger in the form of the Borg abduction finale “The Best of Both Worlds,” the hunger for that next new episode was overwhelming. I had become hooked on Star Trek – something that I thought would never happen.
I became something of a student of Trek after that. Sure, I watched every new episode each week, but I also read as much as I could of what went on behind the scenes. As a student journalist at the time with some background in television production, it was a fascinating study. I continues to be to this day, and while I’ve seen every episode of The Next Generation several times, I always find something new to appreciate that wasn’t obvious to me at the time when I was a teenager.
I recently took some time to look back at this landmark, third-season moment with the Borg for a column I wrote for the Star Trek site TrekCore. I’m providing the link here.
CNN released a story today explaining why it has chosen not to address Foley’s beheading in more graphic terms. I included the link (here). This is yet again one of those cases where the media is forced to play chicken with its own moral and ethical standards — standards that seem to be rapidly evolving (or de-evolving) with the growing power and pressure of social media. Let’s be honest here: there’s simply no way ANY news outlet could get away showing this man being beheaded. Producers and editors know people are flooding other sites less-burdened by these restraints to see the video, and that must be difficult for them. How do you give the public what it wants without compromising taste and decency?
There’s nothing to be gained for showing Foley’s full execution other than shock and sadness. The death itself isn’t news — how Mr. Foley got to this point, what was said in the video, and the response by concerned nations is news, however. In this crazed meta universe we live in where the media reports on itself just as much as it reports on the events of the day, managing this video has provided tantalizing discourse for media junkies, but the academics of this issue must eventually yield to action. The bottom line remains: there is no justification for showing someone being slaughtered on national TV. You simply can’t sell it to your average Joe or Jill living in Kansas. And no matter how you try to explain away your reasoning for not showing the video (“It dishonors the victim’s memory”, etc.), it’s simply too painful to watch. That should be enough reason.
In 2012, I wrote a piece on the growing use of amateur and shock video in the news. It might be something worth checking out again, if you’re interested. I applaud the media in its collective decision to maintain a tight rein on what to show regarding the Foley video. If I, or anyone else, wanted to see the video (and I surely don’t), I know where to go online. It’s not CNN, or MSNBC, or Yahoo News — and I don’t expect that it ever will be.
There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the new Star Wars being released next year. I for one am particularly excited about composer John Williams’ contribution to the movie, which is sure to be a memorable one — as it always is. The new Star Wars got me thinking a lot about how scores have helped elevate good movies — and even saved bad ones. My longtime creative partner, who runs a Web site committed to all things retro in music, movies, and gaming, recently asked me to review the score to the 1980 movie The Final Countdown. Here was a perfect example of a great score salvaging a mediocre movie, and almost turning it into a classic.
I admit to being a huge fan of this movie. It’s easy to appreciate it as something of an anomaly in 1980 when movie special effects had survived the growing pains of Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Alien – not to mention The Empire Strikes Back, to name just a few. Next to these Big Boys, The Final Countdown, with its embarrassing laser storm time portal and use of stock footage, comes across exactly as it was to make – cheap. However, that low-budget approach and earnest attention to story, underscored by the propulsive score by John Scott, is what gives the movie a curiously lasting charm.
If you are a fan of the movie too, download the complete score if you don’t already have it. I included a track listing below from the JOS Records release in 2004 to help reference what I write from here going forward.
On the whole, Scott imbues the score with incredible optimism and purpose. At its core, The Final Countdown is a science fiction movie and Scott opens the movie in the main titles with Star Trek-ian fanfare. Like the Starship Enterprise, the U.S.S. Nimitz is treated like a character in the movie with its own theme. There’s little in the “Main Titles” to portend the forthcoming mystery and danger of the story. It’s a balls-out piece of heroic bombast that finds its fingerprints all over the rest of the score. Scott gives it a beautifully fatalistic feel in “Nimitz On Route” and a revisited heroic identity for “Splash the Zeros”. It’s hard to ignore the very obvious Tchaikovsky influences and one may take issue with its shameless patriotism, which makes the score feel like a marketing piece for the Navy (the movie was in fact used as a recruiting tool for the Navy). Despite this, the theme serves quite well what is, in essence, a very American movie.
Scott displays his true creativity with his “Mr. Tideman” theme, which may be, I would argue, one of the best themes ever created for a movie character. This track is certainly worth dissecting because it’s a work of undeniable genius. The nervous strings running throughout the track convey the appropriate anticipation and mystery surrounding the Tideman character and the horns echo the more stately and official elements of the Navy and Tideman’s relationship to it, but it’s that quick, playful little melody heard 45 seconds in that’s at the soul of the theme. It took me a few listens but I realized, whether intentional or not, that Scott was tipping his hat to “Tubular Bells”, which played a significant role in the score for The Exorcist.
Scott brings back the Tideman theme in romantic guise for the first real personal meeting between Commander Owen and Laurel. The theme, now stripped down and played with flute, not only underscores their budding romance but also foreshadows their relationship to the first appearance of Tideman earlier in the movie. The theme becomes more aggressive and fulfilled (not to mention creepier) at the end of the movie when it’s revealed Commander Owen is Mr. Tideman – or became Mr. Tideman, however you want to interpret it.
Sometimes the fanfare gets to be a little too much. “The Admirals Arrive” is a painful marching band composition and “Last Known Location,” with its overly dramatic tympanis and strings, feels entirely mired in dated ’70s and early ’80s adventure film scoring. I can’t say too much about Scott’s use of the Jaws theme to underscore the approaching time storm. After all, Jerry Goldsmith used it as well for The Omen in a key scene there. Here, Scott has time to truly play it out. It’s yet another nice nod to another influential film score from that era, even if it does seem like a lazy choice (even “An Hour Ago” sounds slightly derivative of Capt. Dallas’ air shaft crawl scene in Alien, with a few sneaky notes of the main Alien theme thrown in for good effect).
The Final Countdown is a relic of a time long since passed, when scores were treated with incredible care and attention, especially for sci-fi and adventure films. Call it the Star Wars Effect. Today, with emphasis and minimalism and irony in scoring, it’s easy to dismiss Scott’s score as dated or even jingoistic. As politically minded as we are today, a movie like this would be (if similarly made) filed on either side of the dividing line between red and blue ideologies. And that’s sad. It diverts attention from what is in essence a beautifully realized score that serves its movie well and makes it a memorable, if flawed, entry in sci-fi cinema.
- The Final Countdown Main Titles(3:53)
- Mr. Tideman (2:24)
- The U.S.S. Nimitz On Route(3:28)
- The Approaching Storm (4:22)
- Pursued By The Storm (2:45)
- Into The Time Warp (3:57)
- Rig The Barricades (2:16)
- Last Known Position (2:13)
- An Hour Ago (1:00)
- December 7, 1941 (0:46)
- The Japanese Navy (0:35)
- Shake Up The Zeros (2:13)
- Splash Two (1:05)
- Laurel and Owen (2:22)
- Climb Mount Nitaka (2:10)
- On The Beach (0:39)
- General Quarters (1:48)
- Operation Pearl Harbor (0:59)
- The Storm Reappears (3:28)
- Back Through The Time Warp (3:40)
- The Planes Return (1:27)
- The Admirals Arrive (1:30)
- Mr. and Mrs. Tideman (4:19)
Released by: JOS Records
Release date: 2004
Total running time: 53:20
Yes, that has been the sound of crickets on this site over the past year. TAP remains inactive. I don’t see any need to post regular blogs to this site unless something dramatic happens that throws me squarely into the action. I don’t have a plan that helps me differentiate this site from the countless others — both in print and in TV — that provide essentially the same kind of commentary. There are way-too-many talking-heads out there. I’m not dismantling this site because I’m just not sure when inspiration and motivation will strike again…
In these post-Will & Grace, post-DOMA times in which we live, gay characters and storylines in film and television seem as common today as butter on hot morning toast. It’s easy to forget there was a time when trying to get LGBT issues represented in popular media was as futile as, well, trying to cut that same morning toast with a wet noodle.
In 1992, Star Trek: The Next Generation took a stab at the issue of gay rights with its fifth-season episode “The Outcast”. It was seen as a bold move for the show. While the early 1990’s did offer some limited visibility to gay issues in film and television, most of the stories concerned the gay plight or the struggles of homosexuals within the AIDS epidemic. What made “The Outcast” different is that instead of framing the story around disease or the tragic consequences of an aberrant lifestyle, it took a more sympathetic approach by focusing on fitting-in and assimilation into a hostile culture.
It must be said that the episode does not feature a gay character, nor does it even mention homosexuality. The issue is handled obliquely using a character named Soren, who is a member of an alien race called the J’naii. As an androgynous people, they show no gender identification. Every so often, a child is born that identifies with one particular gender. Because gender identification is considered a sickness in their society, the child – once recognized – must undergo treatment to make the child normal. In the episode, Soren has hidden her identification with being female from her people for much of her life, but when she falls in love with Riker, the secret is exposed. She is forced to undergo treatment at the end of episode and is ostensibly cured of her identification.
For many fans of the show, “The Outcast” failed to deliver on its promise of a gay-rights episode. There was no coming-out for a member of the crew. There was no new character on the ship who was introduced as gay. It felt like a cop-out: a way of addressing the issue in a quick, one-hour installment with an alien race that no one really cared about or would care about next week when the crew was dealing with an altogether new crisis. What’s more, the alien lead was noticeably female in appearance and voice (a female actor did play the part), which kept the dynamic between her and Riker comfortably heterosexual. For what was to be a bold, water-cooler episode, it felt far too safe and conventional for its ambitions.
The Next Generation would not have been risking much had it chose to produce a far more overt gay-rights episode. The show was already monstrously successful by the end of its fifth season. The series had already broken significant ground in the past with its first interracial kiss. Fans had come to expect a bit of the unorthodox from Star Trek. It is likely that a carefully presented gay character for the show would not have damaged its already swelling popularity. It is also very likely it would have generated even more buzz for an aging show that was facing growing competition from newer sci-fi television series. Of course, when you open this particular door as a producer, you are then forced to commit to regular storylines to justify the choice. With its end-run squarely on the horizon, it’s possible the producers didn’t want to paint themselves into a corner this late in the game. Still, there were far more effective choices the producers could have made to make this a more palatable gay-issues episode.
First, the producers should not have chosen Riker to be Soren’s love interest. The relationship just isn’t believable. There’s nothing to suggest from Riker’s past (or from what we’ve seen over the course of five seasons) that this would be the type of person Riker would be attracted to. Riker has been largely characterized as a skirt-chaser attracted to beautiful woman. As an androgynous female wrestling with complex personal issues, Soren is the complete opposite of what he usually finds appealing. It is possible Riker was chosen to give him some character development, but the long-term implications of his attraction are never explored. It also does the character tremendous disservice to have him violate the Prime Directive in an attempt to save Soren. At this point in his service aboard the Enterprise (and in the series), this action is completely reprehensible and just plain unbelievable.
A more logical choice for the part would have been Barclay, a popular milquetoast crewman. This would have provided the producers more freedom to explore a so-called gay-themed episode in less oblique terms. Barclay is an infrequent regular on the show. He is intelligent, open-minded, and is often entrusted with assignments that put him in close contact with senior staff. It would have been completely credible to have assigned him to Soren’s mission. Although Barclay has been portrayed as heterosexual, there’s nothing to suggest that he couldn’t be attracted to a man. Since Barclay craves companionship of any kind in his life, a case could be made for some flexibility in his sexuality, which opens the door perfectly for a male Soren. It would have provided a wonderful way to address gay issues and, at the same time, enrich Barclay’s character with some development. What’s more, the producers wouldn’t be forced into more storylines on the subject because Barclay isn’t a regular to begin with.
A lot of criticism has been directed at having Soren undergo reparative therapy at the conclusion of episode. Was it another way for the producers to quickly flush the storyline so Riker could remain single and available? Probably. Again, using Riker painted the producers into a difficult creative corner. I never saw the ending as endorsement for reparative therapy or an attempt to make the case that gays would be happier if they were normal, as Soren appears to be at the end of the episode. This is a tragic story with a tragic ending, and that’s how I saw it. Just because she’s different — or, for our purposes here, gay — doesn’t mean she’s necessarily entitled to a happy ending. At the end of the day, Star Trek is about our main characters and their growth and journey. The episode “The Inner Light” is a terrific example of using a risky character story to properly evolve a character. As soon as Picard awoke from his experiences in that episode, he didn’t simply brush off the dirt and go about his merry way. His experiences on the planet, particular with the flute, helped inform his actions later on. He changed. There’s nothing to suggest Riker changed as a result of his experiences with Soren.
“The Outcast” is indicative of a lot of the problems the producers were having with Riker’s character post-third season. Up until the Borg finale in season three, Riker was portrayed largely as alpha-male functioning as a rather impulsive counter-point to the more professorial Picard. He wasn’t someone you wanted to piss off. After passing on his own command in “The Best of Both Worlds” (a decision that ultimately saved his life), it seemed the stage was set to start making Riker look more and more weak and uncertain. It is hard to swallow that someone who essentially destroyed the Borg and saved Earth would continue to remain a first officer. I would think Starfleet would have forced the promotion to captain, as I’m sure they were in need of good leaders given the ongoing struggles with the Cardassians in particular. No other character has been bullied around by other officers in Starfleet more than Riker it seems. Despite his incredible achievements with the Enterprise, he was treated like a kid struggling to get respect from all adults in the room. It’s ironic that Riker had been given some of the more interesting episodes in the latter seasons. “The Pegasus” is a wonderful episode that offers some nice backstory for Riker. “Second Chances” introduces us to Tom Riker, a twin created from a transporter mishap. “Lower Decks” nicely reminds us of the “old” Riker with his bad-ass attitude. All good episodes, but wildly inconsistent.
For all its flaws, “The Outcast” should not be dismissed. It did get people talking and it raised some awareness of gay issues at a time when there wasn’t much discussion. With all the advances the LGBT community has made in the past 10 years, especially in television and film, “The Outcast” seems rather quaint as an issues show today. The moral and ethic debate waged in this episode, however, remains as relevant as it did in 1992. Reparation therapy continues to attract media attention and many struggle with issues of gender identity. And perhaps that is what Star Trek has always done best. It may not always provide easy answers to difficult issues but it does open the floor to begin discussion.
I found a great blog post about the death of the family film. It was published in June. Check it out here.
I have to agree with this guy on several points. There seem to be very few family-friendly action-adventure movies being made outside of the ever-reliable Pixar animation camp. The days of Back to the Future and Raiders of the Lost Ark seem long gone. As someone who was born in the early ’70s and nourished on some great fantasy and adventure films of the time, I find the yearly crop of releases these days to be largely forgettable.
What happened? The author surmises that it could have a lot to do with the state of the world these days. We just don’t see wonder in the world anymore. I argue that there is wonder, but we’re reminded too much of the negativity. I’m someone who can cut through a lot of the B.S. since I’m older and rather visually literate. Young people who are just discovering film don’t have perspective yet. If we’re offering too much sadism, crime, and depression — and not enough of the positive side of life — we’re doing an incredible disservice to the younger generation.
We can’t say simple, too, that people don’t want fun movies anymore. The ’70s were an incredibly depressing time for America, given the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War, and the collapsing economy. And yet people embraced hopeful adventure movies like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If people were bummed out over the world then, why did they go see these movies? Alec Baldwin said recently in an interview that the problem with Hollywood is bad directors and studio heads who know nothing about moviemaking. I would agree that respect for the art of making mainstream movies is gone. There’s probably a whole host of reasons for this, be they the Internet, social media, cable TV, Dr. Phil, — whatever. All I know is it’s never too late to bring the magic back to the movies. Did innocence die in the 1980s? Of course not. It’s always been around. We just can’t be afraid of it anymore.